Key messages from VALA 2008

Some people don’t have the time to plough through all this text, so I’ve been asked to put together some of the main messages that I picked up at VALA. I reserve the right to adjust these as I complete posting all of my notes. So, to date, I think the key messages that come to mind are as follows:

  • The importance of pro-active engagement and interaction with the relatively new social networks that have emerged on Web 2.0. That is where the future will evolve from (very rapidly) and we need to be aware and involved to stay up. It is relatively risk and cost free. We should start making more use of engagement/interactive tools like wikis to develop and grow our own community (utilising the wisdom of crowds).
  • Systems (on the web) need to be engaging and intuitive (not “must do”) or they’ll be avoided by users.
  • We need to look at the ways we catalogue and who we are cataloguing for (ourselves). If you think of the Collection-Cataloguing continua it is something like Acquisition>Arrangement>Store>Keep – we are good at all of that, but we are not so good when it comes to the “providing public access via the web” (assisting our users to find and get) part. Our catalogues need to be fully optimised for search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. If we are maintaining systems that do not get the data out to the web because of some facility or capability that only we need, we should consider using a mash-up to account for those needs and simpler more open web standards for the essential needs of the public users. The use of persistent identifiers (particularly “canonical” URLs that in many ways are brief catalogue entries themselves) was a plenary topic that attracted much interest.
  • Web services are increasingly being used and can provide almost anything. Slideshare is a good online example of an online repository in the Web 2.0 world. Much of the useful cataloguing (or tagging) is done by the extended community or network. Library Thing for Libraries was also mentioned quite a bit as being used by many libraries around our size (mainly to augment their conventional cataloguing systems).
  • We must stay in touch with developments in Copyright and we should consider making use of the Exceptions in the Act to ensure they stay with us (this will be relevant to the WW1 non-OR digitisation project that we are just beginning – many orphaned and unpublished works).
  • Regarding digital repositories – much of the experience so far has been in the universities storing research material. From them we learn that a one-size-fits-all approach (from the outset) should not be applied too rigorously. Needs and different requirements will evolve as the repositories are used and certain assets may have vastly different needs to others (eg. storage, metadata, etc.) Otherwise, the ECM itself may become a victim of “Gorbachev Syndrome” – swept away by a tide of change that it started and could not keep up with through its own inflexibility and resistence to changing with the times and new technological trends.

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